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Fiona Apple
Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4    by Mark Zeltner -- page 4 of 4

In comparing the sexual connotations of the video to some of Apple's feminine predecessors, specifically the ubiquitous Madonna, some might see a connection. Wasn't the point of Madonna's videos that even though they were bathed in sexual imagery they presented a feminine viewpoint that was controlled by the artist? The lyrics of "Criminal" blatantly suggest that Apple has control over the sexual situations presented (including our own complicity). But the images provide a separate message from the lyrics. This is a video about a sexual situation which Apple, as the gawky adolescent she portrays, has no control over despite what the lyrics of the song might imply. The video actually plays into the male rape fantasy--that women entice or "come on" to men and in that way are actually at fault for the man's abuse.

If Apple and director Romanek are aiming for some kind of ironic message about the dangers of teenage sexuality than they are using a blunt weapon. The Madonna comparison is once again appropriate here because her entire career has been built on her ironic presentations of male conceptions of female sexuality. "Like a Virgin" and "Material Girl" are both videos that lampoon and denigrate men's attempts to sexually control women while simultaneously encouraging them to try again. The images in "Criminal" are too disturbing and simply too enticing to be taken as ironic. Apple is not lampooning the sexual attention of men. She is reveling in that attention.

"What I need is a good defense"

The recent sales surge in Apple's year old album (Dance Fever, 1997) indicates that "Criminal" has hit a nerve with the record buying public. The question is--what nerve did it hit and in whom? If Madonna is declared a positive role model for adolescent girls because of her defiant, take-charge stance in her videos, then what can be said about Apple's influence on her fans and her peers? The images in "Criminal" represent a step back to the early "women-as-sexual-backdrop" origins of music video. Apple presents herself as a sexual victim and then invites the audience to take part in the assault. This video come-on is even more shocking when the viewer knows something of Apple's actual sexual history, which by now, thanks to MTV, has become a vital part of Apple's press package.

Of course all of this would be moot if "Criminal" wasn't effectively shot and edited. Romanek creates a dream-like, almost hypnotic effect in his video interpretation of a not particularly memorable song. And of course, Apple's gawky, adolescent sex appeal is a vital part of the equation. The question now is whether Apple will mature and use the career momentum supplied by "Criminal" to push for more positive images of herself and women in general in her future videos. If Apple continues to play on her video sex appeal to sell her music than she is likely doomed to a short and turbulent career.

page 4 of 4


Go to bibliography.

Get the complete lyrics for "Criminal"
and download a sound clip,
courtesy of the Fiona Apple Home Page at Epic.


Mark Zeltner received his Ph. D. in Communications from The University of Missouri-Columbia. He currently teaches Mass Communications at Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA. He can be reached at or at Wilson College, 1015 Philadelphia Avenue, Chambersburg, PA, 17201.


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